To die for the Emperor is a beautiful thing...

to have lunch packed for the trip -- even better!

I had a lot of fun flying for the Japanese on the night of July 19th, 1997, in a scenario lite. We fought the Americans near Guadalcanal in desperate action.

I was flying a zero -- to awesome effect! Imagine, if you will, an American suddenly waking up and finding himself in the role of a Japanese naval fighter pilot....

I blinked awake in the ready room of my carrier (the Imperial carrier Hello Kitty) and took a moment to "orient" myself. A hand on my shoulder shook me again. It was a Japanese pilot named loko. He was saying there were some American B17s and B25s approaching our task force.

I grabbed my Nikon and my boxed lunch and got into a zero. It seemed there was not enough time to get to the intercept altitude, but as that fabled Samurai Yoda-san said "There is no try -- only do!" And, as many will attest, me and my squadron are full of "do", so I started the engine and waved to the deck crew and vaulted forth into the cherry-blossom petalled morn [this bit of imagery added by propaganda officials in Tokyo].

As I spiraled upward, I saw young red pilots mistaking me for someone who has a clue and rlf1 and loko fell in behind me. I considered for a moment the wretched fate a zero pilot was likely to receive at the brutal, cold trigger fingers of OTTO. I longed to consign his hated death-bomber to the trash yards and enslave that robotic despot to work in Nipponese car factories in Seattle after the war...

Finally arriving at 18K, I saw a snarl of B17 and B25s with a horde of my fellow red pilots attacking them vigorously as they approached the Hello Kitty. I was very pleased and I fumbled to think of the codephrase to report the contact. "Kiss the Blarney Stone!". The words were out of my mouth and into the ether before I realized my blunder. I keyed the mike once more: "Climb Mount Niitaka!". Man o man, it would be tough to live that one down if I made it through this...

As I approached, I saw the target B17 start to drop bombs against my ship below. I saw no fire being directed against me. At range 3, I lay on the triggers. Hits! Not perfectly aimed, but I tried to contain my excitement and concentrate on where my fire was falling. It was hard to maintain concentration -- I fired and missed. I hit a rudder pedal and fired again. I missed! Getting too close now, I do a high yo-yo. This yielded a large planform to fire at, and I aimed and fired. Hits! A final burst went up and down his fuselage. I narrowly avoided colliding with him and rolled clear from the Boeing.

As I recovered, I saw a kill message come by -- I got him! Glowing inside, I thanked Buddha for my success. Wait a minute. Do I worship Buddha? Maybe Shintoism is my religion. I think Shintoism is a religion. I opened my lunch box to see if there were a clue in there. Tempura, octopus, and some little green plastic grass. Thoughts of my cultural identity were flushed from my mind for a moment as I was bathed in tranquility, which I gave voice by moaning, "Mmmmmm -- o c t o p u s..." A B25 went screaming by my canopy. I snapped out of my reverie, stowed my lunch, and resolved that I would look up "Japan" in the Britannica in the ready room after the carrier was safe.

A few more minutes gave me a shot or two at another B17 and the B25. The B25 escaped at high speed, and the B17s were annihilated. I had not been hit by even a single bullet! It sure was good that other zeroes were attacking when I arrived. They were ferocious! I was out of cannon ammunition at that point and went in to land on the unscathed Hello Kitty. I clumsily crashed into the fantail -- shearing my gear and arriving triumphantly on deck in a smoldering fuselage (not sure why I came in too low -- perhaps it was high tide).

Paying little heed to my inexpert landing, ecstatic throngs of plane handlers and rickshaw drivers rushed up and helped me from my plane. I was handed a bouquet. I glowed suddenly and bowed deferentially in all directions, signaling my thanks. "God -- or whomever -- this is great", I thought!

I quickly went into the ready room, carrying my boxed lunch. Plucked koto music provided a soothing counter-melody to the deafening strains of combat in the skies and exultation on the deck above. I exchanged my shoes for slippers, and humbly refused the green tea the geisha offered. The peace within this sanctuary was wonderful. I spied what I took to be a shrine of some kind on a small table and paused to rest reflectively near it. After a few minutes, I realized it was a stack of Sapporo cans -- the big-ass 20 ouncers. I suddenly felt like I would never make a good Japanese fighter pilot.

The geisha re-appeared with a little paper envelope with exquisite calligraphy. The paper was scented and tied with a small ribbon. She smiled and somehow managed to communicate a blush from beneath a very deeply made-up face. She was very cute. I bowed to acknowledge her curtsy, took the envelope, and wondered for an awkward moment if I should tip her. She backed away graciously, resolving the matter.

I looked at the envelope. Gosh was it beautiful -- it looked like an invitation to Martha Stewart's wedding. I flipped it over, not wanting to tear it. I thought perhaps I'd better open it. I do so. A little origami crane came out, his wing a little bit torn by my clumsy handling. There was a little plum candy, as well. But the main object within was a card with Japanese writing on it, protected by a small square of blotting paper. Thankfully, there was an English translation in parentheses below, reading:

"EMERGENCY: There are enemy planes approaching. If you could intercept them, that would be propitious. Respectfully yours, in exacting service to the Emperor and the Yamato people -- the radar guys".

I read the card again, savoring it and sucking on the hard candy. I felt ready to fly again, and was thankful that the crew did not seem to share my uncertainty that I was fitting in. I strode to the door, got my shoes back and asked if my lunch could be kept cool for my return. I was shepherded to the flight deck and was seated in the first rickshaw to appear. Activity clamored everywhere on the flight deck. I was again in my cockpit before I knew it. There was a fresh head-band there, lightly talcum powdered and with a little note showing the proper way to tie it in place. Damn, this was a classy outfit. I put the band on, making sure the red dot was in front. I was going to do my best for my hosts.

I was to fly with -4f- and -aj-. We tuned our radios and took off -- the deck crew cheering us three times as we revved our engines. We started to climb off, wondering where, precisely was the attacking force and what was its composition? As we got to 8000 feet, I saw three dots above us, and well out to our left rear. I called -4f- and -aj-'s attention to them, and suspected they were enemy. I turned toward them, expecting they might swoop in and attack us.

But, instead, they dived straight downward. I looked again, and saw that they were over the task force! They must be divebombers -- and we were not in position! A sick recollection of Midway came back to me as we firewalled our throttles and flew toward the carrier. Was the tragedy repeating itself on my watch?!

Things went from bad to worse when we saw the Hello Kitty explode and sink under a hail of bombs. -4f- broke radio silence with a long, rambling message to the other red pilots in the air. The primary points of information in this communication were

  1. the beauty of springtime on the Osakan waterfront
  2. an allusion to victories gained against the Chinese in the 17th century and how we were heir to them by dint of our Bushido spirit
  3. tonight's film was being cancelled due to "technical difficulties".

His radio message was acknowledged by raucous cheers of "Banzai!" on the radio, received from all bearings. I marveled again at how bearable the unbearable can be made when you couch it in the proper terms. Meanwhile, we applied ourselves wholly to wreaking revenge upon these American bombers. After a minute, we were near the task force and looking for the miscreants. Then, many thousands of feet below, we saw a tell-tale wisp of smoke from a damaged attacker as he fled homeward to his base on Guadalcanal. We nosed over and pursued -- thankful that our Mitsubishis had more speed than those boxy American designs.

As we gained on the formation of 3 SBDS, I dipped below the enemy to avoid fire from the tailgunners. My zero was straining at the point of compressibility -- so I would not be able to dodge gracefully. As I bore in, one of the 3 SBDS wheeled dramatically around and fired at me. Bullets tore through my craft! That pilot had perhaps sensed that my attack was going to not allow for much return fire from his tail guns, and his countermove was expertly delivered! Thankfully, my plane appeared to shrug off the injury. My attacker disappeared to my rear -- I was comfortable that -4f- and -aj- would finish him. I pressed in good and close on the trailing SBD and fired. I got some hits and saw him start to maneuver. Another long burst finished him in a spectacular explosion.

I looked at the remaining lead SBD -- the one trailing smoke. I was gaining on him, and still in good position to attack without taking return fire. Just then, my radio crackled to life:

-4f-: Harken, Samurai!

Huh? I checked the tuning knobs to see that I was on the right frequency and tapped my mike to check my headset's connection. Everything seemed fine -- maybe -4f- was not getting enough oxygen. I leaned in closer to judge my attack. I was still gaining on my quarry. I scanned the skies ahead to make sure I was not getting pulled into his base's CAP. The sky was clear, but the radio erupted again:

-4f-: In the dragon's nursery,

This is surreal, I thought to myself. I considered turning off the radio to preserve my concentration, but I was just then drawing within range of the enemy bomber and squinting through my gunsight to precisely judge the aiming point. A few more seconds....

-4f-: winds whisper "Alarm!"

but of COURSE! A THRT (Tactical Haiku Radio Transmission)! I reeled around in my seat to see a Wildcat diving down on my tail to protect his charges. Behind him, -4f- was unable to match his speed, and knew the radio was his only hope of saving his leader. In a fraction of a second, he composed a valid haiku to capture the essence of the moment, employing only imagery of feudal Japanese folklore, fauna, Sumo, or mountain peaks enwreathed in morning mist. Even as my vision darkened as I pulled hard on the stick to dodge the "dragon"'s fire, I thought briefly how well the years of training were serving me and my unit in this aerial campaign.

Naturally, the best THRT messages are those that put the information in a context that allow the recipient to comprehend its place in the consciousness of the Empire, without sacrificing clarity. But examples of greatness in tactical haiku can mix these two virtues in different proportions. It was not uncommon for servicemen to win medals for haiku transmissions of exceptional resonance -- or crispness.

Oafishness was not tolerated. A Okinawan corporal in Manchuria was beheaded for transmitting a situation report that read:

Enemy activity
here less today than it's been
Since June. How 'bout there?

What it possessed in brevity was in no way balanced with beauty or any embrace of the national spirit. The emphasis that was placed on the format was such that requests for resupply became pretty difficult to author, and it was common for the supplied units to withhold complaint no matter HOW irrelevant the goods received were to their actual logistical needs.

Although it was not officially encouraged, some tactical haiku were impossible to "understand", but had a wonderful spin about them. Early on the morning of the Battle of Midway, a Japanese scout pilot radioed:

Early morning rain
tiny droplets of silver
cling to blades of grass

Some have argued that this was a sighting report of the American carriers that was not grasped for what it was. It caused a ten minute round of eye-blotting on the Akagi when it arrived, and its author was awarded a posthumous medal. Go figure...

I was able to thwart the Wildcat's lunge at me, but his attack did buy his bomber friend a safe ride home. He foolishly chose to engage us in battle after this. -4f- seemed to seize the upper hand in this fight, though I scored some hits on the aggressive American fighter. We destroyed him without loss to ourselves.

Having lost our beloved carrier, We had to fly toward field 8 to land. We landed, and there was no cheering. Everyone seemed busy, here, too, but there was no joy to their toil -- worry seemed to impel their labors.

I got to the pilot center, a small non-descript building with ample reserves of dust. There was no music and no geisha with whom to exchange smiles. We were exhausted, and it seemed as though suddenly and irrevocably our war had entered a new and dismal phase.

Copyright 2001 The Dweebs of Death. All rights reserved.
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